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Celebrating the Honourable Lois Mitchell

Lieutenant Governor of Alberta invaluable to the University of Calgary for her former role in Latin American Research Centre

Her Honour Lois Mitchell, lieutenant-governor of Alberta, and Richard Sigurdson, dean of the Faculty of Arts. Photo by Dave Brown

By Heath McCoy 
December 3, 2015

"You have to have a passion for what you do," says the Honourable Lois Mitchell, the beloved Calgary businesswoman and philanthropist who became the 18th Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta this year. "When the mind, the heart and the soul come together, nothing seems like work. To be honest with you, nothing I’ve ever done has felt like work, because I loved it.”

True to her word, Her Honour's enthusiasm and sheer joy for her new role was indisputable at a private ceremony held on Monday, November 30th at the University of Calgary Dining Centre's Alberta Room. The event was organized by the Faculty of Arts to thank Mitchell for her long time, pivotal role as the first Chair of the Advisory Board of the Latin American Research Centre (LARC).

A former educator, Mitchell became a prominent businesswoman starting in the 1970s when she presided over a successful merchandising and sports marketing firm before launching corporate training firm Amherst Consultants. She later became a founding partner of Rainmaker Global Business Development.

Along with her husband Doug Mitchell, a Calgary lawyer and former commissioner of the Canadian Football League, the couple established their reputation of dedication to volunteerism and numerous charitable causes.

Eventually, her passion for volunteering led Her Honour to a 12-year stint as Honorary Consul for Colombia, facilitating Alberta and Saskatchewan businesses that were doing work in the South American country.

As Her Honour’s adviser in this role, University of Calgary history professor Stephen Randall, a renowned scholar of Latin American Studies, began to form the plans for LARC, which was established in 2001. Thanks to LARC, the university has established a long history of engagement in Latin America and enjoys a strong reputation in the region. Research on Latin America has long been a key area of excellence at the university, in keeping with the Eyes High strategy and goals for internationalization.

Her Honour recalls the motivation behind establishing LARC. "Colombia was going through a tense time then, politically and socially,” she says. “There was certainly not a lot of exchanges going on with students. We realized there were a lot of opportunities."

As the Chair of LARC's Advisory Board, Her Honour was essential to the centre's growth, her business connections proving invaluable for fundraising and engaging the corporate community for support.

"That's why these advisory boards are so important," she says. "Part of it is about advising, but it's also about making those connections with the business community. I had been a Chair of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, among other things, so people trusted me. In that way, I helped make it grow. But the real credit has to go to the amazing academics who were at the helm. They should get the credit for making the Latin American Research Centre the respected and influential organization that it is today."

In her new role as Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta, Her Honour is tackling the job with her trademark zeal, delighted with both her formal bill-signing constitutional tasks and the community responsibilities inherent in the job. “I love going into all of these different little rural communities,” she says enthusiastically. “You find these wonderful hidden gems that are so worth exploring.”

As for the causes Her Honour plans to emphasize in the role, the list is a long one with education, agriculture and aboriginal issues on the agenda. But she also plans to continue the work of her predecessors.

“When officials get elected, very often they want to start over again,” says Mitchell. “My predecessors all championed something, and I’ve made up my mind to build on those things.”

“Lois Hole championed the arts. I will always do that. Normie Kwong pushed for active communities and next year I’m attending a conference with recreational community leaders. Don Ethell worked to raise mental health awareness. That’s still important.”

“I am a big believer in building and making stronger the important work of my predecessors.”